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Paul is preaching to the gentiles in Acts 9 and Peter has his vision in Acts 10. So why does Peter say that the Lord chose him to preach to the gentiles and that Cornelius was the first of the gentiles converted?:

[Act 15:7, 14 NLT] (7) At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: "Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. ... (14) Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself.

Why did Peter think that he was sent to the gentiles and then in the meeting in Acts 15 it is decided that Paul should go and Peter should go to the Jews?

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  • Peter was sent to Cornelius and his household; they were Gentiles. The primary difference is Peter was sent and preached to Gentiles in Israel. OTOH Paul was sent and preached to Gentiles outside of Israel – Revelation Lad Mar 1 '20 at 5:00
  • Paul is preaching to the gentiles in Acts 9 - Is he, though ? As far as I can tell, he is merely spreading the Gospel among the Jewish Diaspora. – Lucian Mar 7 '20 at 7:58
  • @Lucian Even if not, it was only because he went to the Jew first. He was specifically sent "far away to the gentiles" because he was "a chosen vessel to bring the gospel to the nations", which he did almost single-handedly. – Ruminator Mar 7 '20 at 12:40
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As best I can work out, based on the record we have in Acts 9-15 and Gal 1 & 2, the sequence of events following Paul's conversion goes something like this. (The record in Acts is not continuous).

  • Saul receives his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, Acts 9:1-19
  • Immediately afterward Saul preached Jesus in the synagogues, Acts 9:20-22
  • How long he remained in Damascus preaching in the synagogues in unknown but it was probably a few months(??). He then went to Arabia for an unknown time, presumably to clarify his thinking. Gal 1:17
  • Saul then returned to Damascus. Acts 1:17. It is not clear whether the events of Acts 9:23-25 (the plot to kill Saul) was before or after the trip Arabia. I am inclined to the latter because it was after "many days" (Acts 9:23). In any case, at this point, Paul has thus far confined himself to synagogues. It was at this point that he decided to leave for Jerusalem.
  • Paul goes to Jerusalem 3 years after his conversion (Gal 1:18, Acts 1:26-29) to meet Cephas/Peter and other leaders. Saul is still only dealing with Jews and not gentiles. Acts 9:29.
  • Paul then travels to Syria and Cilicia via Tarsus. Gal 1:21-24, Acts 9:30.
  • The Church enjoyed a time of peace. Acts 9:31. During this next period, Acts is silent about the activities of Saul.
  • Peter miraculously heals Aeneas and resurrects Tabitha at Lydda. Acts 9:32-43
  • Peter is called to Cornelius and baptises the first gentile at Caesarea. Acts 10.
  • Peter is called to Jerusalem to explain why he had entered a gentile's house and then baptised a gentile. After explaining about the action of the Holy Spirit, the leaders had no further objection. Acts 11:1-18. There is no further record of Peter ever preaching to gentiles after this incident.
  • Attention then shifts to Antioch and the developing tension over the role, if any, gentiles should have in the Gospel message. Acts 11:19-26. It was during this time that Barnabas went to get Saul in Tarsus (v25) and brought him to Antioch. It was at this time that Saul and Barnabas began preaching to gentiles.
  • Because of a famine, Saul and Barnabas are sent with gifts to Jerusalem. Acts 11:27-30. It is probable that this was trip to Jerusalem is that referred to in Gal 2:1, fourteen years after Paul's conversion. It was at this Jerusalem meeting that Paul agreed with Peter an amicable division of labour - Paul would preach to the gentiles while Peter would preach to the Jews, Gal 2:9.
  • Saul returns from Jerusalem to Antioch. Acts 12:25
  • Saul/Paul and Barnabas are sent off on their first missionary journey Acts 13:2 - 14:28, preaching to gentiles, returning to Antioch.
  • The Jerusalem council is called to debate circumcision. Acts 15.

Thus, it appears that Peter baptised the first gentile (Acts 10, 15:7, 14, Cornelius) but appears to have then decided to concentrate on the Jews as subsequent actions confirmed (Gal 2:11-14). Paul also initially preached to Jews as shown above but later switched his focus to reaching gentiles.

We are not told why Peter changed his focus as he did. Why not call Paul to preach to the first gentile? We are not told. However, here is my suggestion: Peter was called to reach and baptise the first gentile because of his leadership in the church - almost any other person wound not have had the standing to make such a seismic change in the early church. Even Peter struggled with this.

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  • Thank you so much for this excellent research! My thought is that Ananias and Paul both knew Paul was sent to the gentiles by Acts 9:15: [Act 9:15 NLT] (15) But the Lord said, "Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. It seems Peter is mistaken that he is first to recognize the gentiles and that he is sent to the gentiles, no? I mean, the Lord didn't dispatch conflicting orders, did he? – Ruminator Mar 1 '20 at 2:09
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    I would broadly agree - Paul was always called to go to the gentiles. Peter baptised the first gentile to "ease" Paul into the culture shock that was for all at the time. – Dottard Mar 1 '20 at 10:22
  • (+1). I merely corrected the details of Paul raising Tabitha, at Lydda, for you. This answer is very informative regarding the ministries of both Peter and Paul. – Nigel J Mar 1 '20 at 15:59
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    @NigelJ - Ah! Thanks for correcting that error. – Dottard Mar 1 '20 at 20:53
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Was it Peter or Paul who first revealed that the gospel would be announced to the gentiles?

It was neither Peter or Paul that first revealed the gospel to the gentiles. Following the persecution that took place over Stephen being stoned to to death,Christians were scattered and went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19-20)

Acts 11:19-20 (NET Bible)

Activity in the Church at Antioch

19 "Now those who had been scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one but Jews. 20 But there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene among them who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks too, proclaiming the good news of the Lord Jesus."

When the Apostles and the Elders in Jerusalem heard that many Greek-speaking people were becoming believers, they dispatched Barnabas as far as Antioch, and when he observed the great interest shown there, he brought Paul in from Tarsus to help. (Acts 11:21-26)

Acts 11:20-26 (NET Bible)

21 "The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 A report about them came to the attention[p] of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts, 24 because he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and a significant number of people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught a significant number of people. Now it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians."

Paul (Saul of Tarsus)

Paul was chosen by Jesus to be his representative to the nations and the sons of Israel. He was a murderous opponent of Christ’s followers, but his life was changed completely when he was shown mercy and became the “chosen vessel” of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 9:15 (NASB)

15 "But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen [a]instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;(Footnotes:[a] vessel)"

1 Timothy 1:12-13 (NASB)

12 "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;"

Peter also known in the scriptures as Cephas- Symeon-Simon)

Peter was privileged to open the hope of entering God’s Kingdom to three different fields of mankind​, first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles, or non-Jews.

Matthew 16:19 NIV

19 "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven."

Peter alone was given the keys of the kingdom. He used these "keys" entrusted to him to open up ,for Jews Acts 2:22-41, for Samaritans Acts 8: 14-17, for the Gentiles -Cornelius. Acts 10: 1-10 , 10:34-38 , the opportunity to receive God’s spirit with a view to their entering the heavenly Kingdom.

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  • Thanks very much for this answer Ozzie. So are you suggesting that the Greek speakers were gentiles, converted before Acts 9 but were a sizable body by Acts 11? I hope I'm not asking a dumb question. – Ruminator Mar 2 '20 at 0:14
  • Yes, the Greek speakers were gentiles, you will notice that vs 19 b finishes : "speaking the message to no one but Jews." Vs 20 begins, "But there were some men from Cyprus------and began to speak to the Greeks, thus clearly indicating that they were gentiles. It is hard question , not dumb. Like Cornelius and his family , many Gentiles and Samaritans exercised faith in Jesus and became believers. The fact that Peter used the keys means that now Jews and Gentiles were on the same basis as to opportunities of entering into the Kingdom of the Heaven. Luke 22:28-30; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 14:1-5 – Ozzie Ozzie Mar 2 '20 at 19:59
  • Thank you for this input. Hopefully we'll get more responses and be able to feel confident in an answer. – Ruminator Mar 2 '20 at 20:24
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Peter was chosen to take the gospel of circumcision to the Gentiles into Israel, and Paul to bring the gospel of uncircumcision to the non-Torah-ruled Gentiles outside of Israel, governed by the laws of foreign nations.

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  • Just be clear, can you explain what you mean by "the gospel of circumcision"? Thanks. – Ruminator Mar 5 '20 at 15:26
  • Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. Romans 2:25 New International Version (NIV) – Betho's Mar 5 '20 at 16:01
  • Sorry, I'm still not clear and I don't want to misunderstand what you are saying. Can you please spell it out for me? Thanks. – Ruminator Mar 5 '20 at 16:07
  • Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too! Since God is one, he will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then nullify the law through faith? Absolutely not! Instead we uphold the law. Romans 3:29-31 New English Translation. NET – Betho's Mar 5 '20 at 16:30
  • FYI, the law Paul is establishing is the principle of faith, not the Torah of Moses. – Ruminator Mar 6 '20 at 16:23

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